By  on July 23, 2008

MIAMI BEACH — Diesel launched its first swimwear collection here by pairing bikinis with props like baseball helmets, boxing gloves, football pads and other sports gear to tie in with the “collegiate varsity” theme in the brand’s sportswear collection.

The show on Thursday night kicked off Mercedes-Benz FashionWeek Swim, running July 18 to 21, in tents at the Raleigh Hotel. Bucking the tent tradition, Diesel’s models, including perennial swimwear favorite May Andersen and 17-year-old singer Teyana Taylor, in her modeling debut, walked over water — a runway constructed over the length of the pool.

“Diesel never does anything like anybody else,” said Steve Birkhold, chief executive officer of Diesel USA Inc. “Why would this show be any different?”

The swim collection, with 120 women’s pieces, as well as men’s and children’s, expands on a limited, but successful 2006 launch of a few items in Diesel’s worldwide stores, and in a limited number of retailers, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Birkhold said. Women’s swimwear retails for $65 to $130, with black-and-white graphic prints, plaids and athletic-inspired looks, mostly bikinis. The merchandise includes cover-ups loosely fitted off the shoulder in a sweatshirt look, as well as bottoms with belts.

“Our design team is very intuitive and creative,” Birkhold said. “It’s not a scientific process, with focus groups, and we don’t try to incorporate trends just because they are trends. It’s a natural extension of the brand and resonates with our DNA.”

The spring-summer 2009 line will not be sold at the Miami show. It will be shown in New York in August and will be available for December deliveries.

About 800 people attended the launch of the collection. The crowd was hip and mostly young, decked out in micromini dresses and boots or teetering in gladiator stiletto sandals in the sand at the postshow party around the Raleigh pool.

With little dancing, the main postshow activities were smoking, and drinking games; photographers almost outnumbered revelers.

Diesel founder and ceo Renzo Rosso, who had described Miami as “one of his favorite cities in the world, and one of the brightest places in the heart of Diesel,” canceled his trip here because of unspecified last-minute conflicts.

Diesel has two stores in Miami, with a third opening on Lincoln Road next spring. The company has 40 U.S. stores and plans call for 30 new doors over the next three years.

“Our retail comps are up 20 percent year-to-date,” Birkhold said, putting a positive spin on the troubled economy. “When consumer wallets are tight, they respond to brands that represent a unique lifestyle.”

The swim shows here, illustrating the cross pollination between fashion and swimwear, include sportswear and ready-to-wear lines that have launched swimwear collections as brand extensions, including Custo Barcelona, Tommy Bahama, Ed Hardy and Tibi.�

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